Prostitution: How Do We Make All Women Safe?

How do we #MakeAllWomenSafe in prostitution? Is that even possible?

We’re currently witnessing epidemic levels of male violence against women and children.

1.3 million female victims of domestic violence last year. 2 women killed every week by a male partner or ex.

Boys subjecting girls in schools to unheard of levels of sexual violence and harassment.

Why isn’t this tidal wave of male violence against women and girls considered a national emergency? … Good question.

There’s evidence the rise in male violence is connected with the unprecedented availability of porn, and the misogynistic violence with which it’s infused. Most children are exposed to this from the age of about 11.

Porn conditions viewers to see violence against women and girls as sexually arousing, to consider it normal, and that women and girls deserve it or even ‘ask for it.’

This powerful painting is by Suzzan Blac, a survivor of prostitution. In her art she explores the trauma of women caught up in the sex trade and makes a potent cultural commentary.

Porn now permeates mainstream culture, grooming girls to think what’s important is how they look, pleasing men and attracting male attention. It grooms boys to become “users, takers, and pornography makers.”

Studies of men who buy sex find they see the women they use as objects and they’re nearly eight times more likely than other men to say they’d rape if they could get away with it.

When we consider the actual reality of prostitution, it’s not hard to see why it makes men more prone to violence and to be less empathetic.

Andrea Dworkin, who was herself in prostitution, describes it like this:

“Prostitution is the mouth, the vagina, the rectum, penetrated usually by a penis, sometimes hands, sometimes objects, by one man and then another and then another and then another.”

So it’s not surprising that buying sex makes men more prone to violence. It feeds his sense of entitlement. It reduces his empathy for women. It normalises one-sided sex – so he learns to ignore the signals of his sexual partners. This means he’s more likely to rape and abuse women and children. As a result, there’s more male violence in the general community and more sexual harassment in the street and workplaces.

Anything that increases prostitution will inevitably lead to more male violence against women and girls. And this in turn will deepen the inequality between the sexes.

To give a flavour of punter attitudes here’s a quote from a forum where men enter reviews of the women they buy.

“She was just like a piece of meat… I thought I’ve paid so I better fuck her hard! I decided to put the legs on my shoulders and I was pumping hard!”

Notice how he refers to her legs as if they’re disembodied.

Research is clear: when the sex trade is made legal – whether by decriminalising or legalising it – prostitution increases. This is not surprising because it sends out a loud message: There’s nothing wrong with buying ‘sex.’

So more men do it; more pimps want to cash in on all that easy money; more brothels get set up; they need more ‘girls’ to fill the brothels – but women who actually have other options seldom choose prostitution; so the sex traffickers move in to fill the gap.

One of the arguments for decriminalising the sex trade is to bring it under Health & Safety regulations. But in any other occupation where there’s a risk of exposure to body fluids, you have to wear masks, gloves, goggles, and protective clothing, like the health workers in the picture.

Condoms slip and break, and punters refuse to wear them. And they don’t protect from saliva, sweat and other body fluids. Or from injuries and inflammation caused by friction, and prolonged and heavy pounding. Or from the psychological damage or deliberate physical violence.

Accepting prostitution as normal work means accepting that normal Health & Safety standards do not apply to it. This would set a terrible precedent for all workers.

We have a feature on our website where women can enter their experiences of the sex trade anonymously. The stories are moving and powerful. The details vary but the themes are the same – including the long-term consequences, which no one had warned them about. One woman summed it up like this:

“You simply cannot forget years and years of swallowing down your consent, of swallowing down what is, at best, disgust, irritation and boredom during sex and, at worst, anger, humiliation and terror.

After you’ve lived through that, it’s fundamentally impossible to have anything near a happy, healthy and ‘normal’ life.”

Nothing can make prostitution safe for the women and girls caught up in it.

Most women enter prostitution as a result of childhood abuse, poverty and misfortune, grooming, coercion, and/or betrayal, rather than as a free choice between a number of viable options.

In study after study, most women say they want to leave prostitution but have no other options for survival. In one study, 89% of the women interviewed said this.

The majority of women in prostitution don’t make a lot of money. As survivor activist, Mickey Meji says, “Prostitution is not a way out of poverty. Most women enter it poor and those that manage to get out, end up even poorer, but now scarred emotionally, physically and mentally.”

But for pimps, it’s a different story. Because so many men are willing to pay for prostitution, there’s easy money to be made.

For example, Phillip Stubbs was found guilty of brothel keeping. When the police raided his home they discovered more than 100 luxury cars in a temperature-controlled basement. He’d made a fortune from exploiting women’s prostitution.

When you think of how much money can be made, it’s little wonder sex industry lobbyists push so hard for full decriminalisation.

This slide shows a multi-storey brothel in Berlin. This is what the pimps want. Industrial scale brothels that can cater to hundreds of men simultaneously. This is what we’d be likely to see in every English city if the sex trade were to be fully decriminalised here.

And instead of being seen as seedy criminals, the pimps who run these palaces of male entitlement and female suffering would immediately become respectable business men.

Sex trade lobbyists have redefined prostitution as ‘sex work’ and prostitutes as ‘sex workers,’ and pushed to get these terms into mainstream use. Many people innocently think these terms are more respectful. But they imply that prostitution is innocuous and is work like any other type of work, when nothing could be further from the truth.

We hear from women who’ve been involved in the sex trade that this idea that prostitution is just a job like any other made them think there was something wrong with her if she didn’t like it. We see it as a subtle form of victim blaming and it makes it even harder for women to get out.

This image has been circulating on social media to support the claim that ‘sex work’ is work.

But perhaps it does more to refute that claim because doesn’t it show what really happens when the state sanctions prostitution as a normal job? Male entitlement and female subordination become official.

… And so does female as second class, lesser, other – or slut, skank, cunt, meat hole, slapper…

And so the tidal wave of violence against women and girls is, after all, all they deserve. And of course it’s not a national emergency.

Women are turning to prostitution out of financial desperation. All the evidence suggests that this further entrenches women’s inequality.

When the state officially sanctions women having to turn to prostitution to survive, prostitution becomes the welfare system, and the state is exonerated from working towards real, positive solutions to women’s poverty and fixing the broken benefits system.

So how do we keep all women safe when prostitution is itself a form of violence and inequality between the sexes and other protected groups?

We’ve seen that anything that increases the amount of prostitution that takes place is likely to lead to more violence against women overall and to entrench the inequality between the sexes.

So the best option is surely to take measures to reduce the amount of prostitution that happens while providing support and viable alternatives for those caught up in it. This is what the Nordic Model aims to do.

The Nordic Model was first introduced in Sweden 20 years ago and since then several other countries have adopted it. It’s key features are:

  1. To repeal all the laws that target prostituted individuals, and to clear their criminal records for the same, while introducing ring-fenced funding for high quality non-judgmental services, including genuine routes out.
  2. Effective laws against pimping, sex trafficking and brothel keeping, with full funding and prioritisation of their enforcement.
  3. Making purchasing sex a criminal offence, with the key aims of changing attitudes and reducing the demand for prostitution that drives sex trafficking.

This check list compares the Nordic Model with full decriminalisation like they have in New Zealand.

Both models decriminalise everyone involved in prostitution. But only the Nordic Model makes ring-fenced provisions for exit services. Regardless what people say, such services do not materialise under full decriminalisation. Why would they when prostitution is defined as just another job that doesn’t need any special measures?

Unlike the Nordic Model, full decriminalisation implicitly decriminalises pimps, punters and brothels. Large brothels come under planning regulations but small brothels are unregulated. So if one opens up next door, there’s not much you can do, even if the punters accidentally knock on your door at all hours of the day and night.

Here are figures for recorded murders of prostituted women in four EU countries, three of which (Germany, Spain and the Netherlands) have some form of legalised or decriminalised prostitution, and one, Sweden, has the Nordic Model.

While the Nordic Model doesn’t make prostitution safe – because nothing can – it does reduce the amount of prostitution that takes place, and therefore the number of new women being drawn into it; and it provides genuine routes out for those already involved. These murder statistics provide strong evidence that this approach works.

Approximately 50% of those known murders and attempted murders of women involved in prostitution in Germany took place in apartments where women worked together in small groups.

Working with other women didn’t keep those women safe.

NOTHING can make women in prostitution safe.

So the only way to make all women safe is to reduce the amount of prostitution that happens and give women viable alternatives. That is what the Nordic Model is all about.

One thought on “Prostitution: How Do We Make All Women Safe?

  1. In recent weeks reportage of sexual violence has risen slightly, and one case over the weekend was a young woman knocked unconscious because she rejected a stranger who was harassing her on the street. Reeks of entitlement. Confronting stuff, hoping we can beat this.

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